Technology in Elementary School

Parent Q&A

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  • Our 5yo started kindergarten in fall 2022 at a public school, and we were surprised that all students in his grade would be issued a Chromebook. I had asked the school staff how much of their learning would be based on Chromebook and was told that it would only be used for assessments; in fact, parents could opt-out of getting the Chromebook. However, given that we had the choice to have one issued to our child and just put it away for storage until needed (and also, who knows about another lockdown), we chose getting one because we didn't want him to feel left out of what seemed to be a standard equipment issue in this day and age. Lately, my son has been asking to play games on his computer and reports that he sees his peers both talking about playing on their computer and using them during after-school hours. We are deliberately a low-tech family with our children, and I am uncomfortable with introducing devices so early on. So, he has never touched his Chromebook except to bring it to school when asked. 

    I am a Gen Xer who didn't have my first flip phone until graduate school. Can parents please shed light to me on any pros (cons welcome, too - maybe I haven't thought of them all) for introducing this kind of device so early on, specifically Chromebook/basic laptop for 5yos? Plus, he has younger siblings, which is another concern of mine. I'm not even broaching smartphones or video games because that is a firm "no" still in our household. I understand some parents make the choice to introduce digital learning to their kids around this time, but we made a conscious decision not to do that. I just don't know if my son is missing out on something and if I'm being too much of a dinosaur. Thanks!

    Your son is not missing out on anything he really needs to develop into an educated citizen.  You should stick to what you're doing.

    I have a 9-year-old and 6-year-old, and we've been trying to slowly introduce them to smart phones, tablets, computer games, and everything on the Internet.  But it's very difficult.  Once you introduce them to an addictive substance, it's hard to take it back.  They just want more and more.  My 1st-grade son in particular, I know he would gladly spend every hour of the day playing computer games.  Because it's like a drug:  it stimulates the same rewards center in your brain that makes you crave continued stimulation.

    You're better off preventing that addiction from starting in the first place. Your child can learn computer literacy at any point in the future, including when they're an adult.  

    Of course, I'm also a Gen Xer.  So my perspective may not be that different from yours.  Still, I urge you to stick to your principles.

    You didn't mention what district you are in, but as we recently moved, my kids each attended kindergarten a different district (WCCUSD and WCSD) they are now 7 and 8. I'm probably a similar age as you, also a Gen X parent. We were a very limited screen house when the kids were in preschool, but now they use computers in school for research and presentations. For example, my 7 year old has a tablet at school and they recently did small group research on honey bees and then presented what they learned to the parents. Also, all California standardized tests are on the computer and begin in third grade, if they don't know how to use the computer and type, it makes it harder for them to answer the questions.

    The schools use educational software and games, and during the pandemic, would submit their work online (in Kindergarten via a Chromebook). Now that they are in class, they submit assignments in person, often on paper. Some of the software my kids use: Epic (reading), Kodable, Dreambox, Seesaw, Google Classroom, Math Tango, Scratch Jr.. plus the school uses a monitoring app called Securly so I get a weekly report of what my kid searched for at school. For example: this week X looked up "Sea Turtle Habitats."  The teachers have private websites that keep us up to date on what programs and modules the kids are using, so if they want extra practice at home, it's easy. We do let our 8 year old use a kindle as she's now into longer chapter books, but I control which library books are loaded onto it, and it has no browser. My 7 year old still reads only books on paper.

    We use parental controls on our devices at home to control which apps they can use, along with time settings, so after the set amount of time the computer is locked. We also don't let them watch TV during the week, and we only watch TV as a family on Sunday afternoons, where we choose something everyone will like. You aren't a dinosaur, but if your kid continues to have no screen time at school, he might have a little struggle compared to the rest of the kids.

    I don't think your son is missing out. This will only worsen as he gets older and kids start to get phones and other tech at ages that may not be what you support. I have a 1st grader and she has classmates with phones, who use social media, who know how to use their Chromebook for non-school related things, etc. She also asks for these things and we just discuss why our family has different rules around technology, social media, etc. You can always touch base with the teacher if there are non-testing/non-homework related games/apps that they think are useful. For example, we do let our daughter play Kodable on her school issued Chromebook which is not part of homework but seems to be teaching her some logic and coding skills. 

    I can see absolutely no "pros" for a Chromebook at age 5.  What you have already experienced (your son asking to play games and telling you his friends are playing games) will dramatically increase if/when you allow him to start playing computer games himself. Regardless of what you do now the battle will become nearly impossible for you to fight by the time he is 10. So give yourself a little more time while you still can. And give him a few more years of innocence. When he asks to play a computer game: read a book together, paint something, do puzzles, go for a walk. 

    In Solidarity,
    Refusnik Mom

    Just a plug for keeping kids off screens, despite social pressure. Our kids attend a school that is very low on tech so luckily we don't have similar school-related pressures. But our kids (7 and 11) don't have any screens but tv, which they can only watch on weekends and is always a shared experience. They come home and say "so-and-so has an Apple Watch or so-and-so plays this video game...". And for us, it's so much easier just giving them a firm "no, that's not what our family is going to do" rather than trying to give a little and then deal with all the battles. I don't see much upshot to iPads/video games etc at this age, compared to all the downsides of distraction, social media exposure, obessesion, and wasting time. The only difficult part is thinking about connectivity with friends- how I wish everyone still had a home phone. But from what I can see, texting or chatting through games or iPhones can get out of hand fast and doesn't seem to cultivate much connection, so we are trying to figure out ways for them to use a real phone to chat with friends. And music is also hard since so much is streaming based. we've brought in cd and record players, and they can ask Alexa to play music too. Our older kid does use my laptop to write stories, but no internet use. Our kids spend their time at home doing so much art, reading, tinkering, and just terrific imaginative play -- they are so much more creative and productive and communicative with us than they would be if they were staring at an iPad in the evenings. And we are still able to finish work and make dinner since they know how to keep themselves occupied. I don't worry about them being technologically behind- everything is only becoming more intuitive and streamlined, by the time they hop on gadgets (hopefully not for a while still), they will catch up in a half second. I totally get that this is not an option for all families but to us it's actually the path of least resistance. 

    Good for you! We do the same. I dread our kid starting school and being introduced to devices (currently under 2yo). There will be plenty of time for them to play with that later. IMHO!

    I’ve seen my niece freak out over having devices taken away- she is 5, nearly 6. She asks for movies etc when she could be playing and learning other things, and my sister (the mom) has to have small arguments with her over it. Seems like it’s not worth the hassle. 

    Keep doing what you’ve set out to do and don’t worry about what other parents are doing or what kids are saying. I hardly recall feeling “left out” at that age over toys. There will be stronger memories in grade school, so don’t stress much over whether or not you need to give in. I’m sure your child will look back and think you were probably right. 

    I grew up without tv. I didn’t have it until I was almost out of high school. It’s the reason I found things I loved having in my life, like painting and hobbies and general interest in the world. 

    Good job!

    The only pro I can think of is that you can do something else while your kid is busy playing games on the Chromebook.

    I've kept screens limited with my kids (though not as much as I wish I could). The oldest got her first chromebook at Longfellow in 6th grade, then we found a more low tech (and in person) school for 7-8 grades. Now she's in public high school, has a chromebook again and doesn't seem to have any trouble navigating the google classrooms. The chromebooks are easier for the teachers because it's easier to automate grading, and keep track of assignments. I haven't noticed they offer any educational value to the kids, other than typing speed, which becomes important if you want to do any work that involves written communications. In the older grades they make the kids read almost all content on their tiny little screens rather than handing out textbooks. So the kids don't have lockers and don't have to keep track of all the schoolbooks or cart them around. If you see value in that.

    Some cons I see in other kids who are more exposed to tech are: horrible posture; inability to carry on a conversation that doesn't involving showing someone videos on their phone; and inability to focus or find ways to occupy themselves if a screen isn't available. I've also noticed with my little one (now age 8) that if I let him do movies/games on the computer then for the next few days he is "sooo bored" and constantly asks to do something on the computer. When I take it out of circulation this problem goes away and he finds other ways to entertain himself. 

    Other unsolicited advice: Many schools are now very invested in pushing tech on children, for reasons I don't fully understand. (See, e.g. your school giving chromebooks to 5 YOs.) It was SO HARD when my daughter was at Longfellow to keep a low-tech environment while all other kids were constantly on their phones. The kids all leverage what the other kids are supposedly doing to pressure their parents into more devices and more access. The best thing that ever happened to us was moving to a low-tech school, where there were other parents on the same page and more kids who knew how to go outside and entertain themselves without phones. If there is any way you can find a social / school group with like-minded parents it will really help. 

    OP here, thanks for your thoughts. We are part of WCCUSD. A fellow parent has told me that her 8yo at the same school does regular assignments on Chromebook. For kindergarten parents, we haven't been given much direction in how to use the Chromebooks at all, and I hope that we would when they start to rely more on the devices for schoolwork. Not just for the activities, but also for security and recommendations for how to structure Chromebook use if this is really going to be a regular part of their work. Thanks for pointing out some of those educational apps.

    Since others have mentioned their screen time use, I thought I'd share ours. We allow 30-40 min. TV during weekdays (when I do prep dinner), and then 1-2 hrs on weekends for a movie (I have a 4yo and 5yo). They have no iPads and very rarely get to watch videos on my phone, unless it is a read-along book. We have done some occasional Internet research before for my 5yo for different presentations for school. I have relented to let my parents play smartphone games with them on occasion because there is some of that bonding going on, and at least it's interactive for everyone involved. I am glad to have some parent solidarity in this! It's definitely not easy.

    You got great feedback to your thoughtful question.  The only thing I would add - the digital divide is real and that a lot of opportunities for families are delivered through schools, so I hypthosize that some of the thought behind giving a chromebook to a kindergartener is about giving a computer to a family.  Many families only have computers through work and phones at home, if you need to apply for a new job, after a lay off say, having a computer, even a chromebook, at home, could make a difference.  

  • Tech-free elementary schools

    (4 replies)

    We are relocating to the Berkeley/ Oakland area and are looking for technology free elemetary schools.  We have taken tours of both Waldorf schools and are wondering if there are additional schools that offer this kind of screen-free environment.  We are also curious how much screen time kids are getting in the Berkeley and Oakland public schools.  Our son will be entering the 1st grade; where we have been living, the disctrict considers itself "tech forward" and thus, from kindergarten on, technology is integrated (youtube, g suite, iready, star fall, etc).  We currently homeschool and are trying to get away from this model in the event we opt to send him into the classroon environment.  Any suggestion/ info is appreciated! 

    Check out Walden in Berkeley. It’s not entirely tech-free but most of the learning is hands-on and there is a big emphasis on integrating creative arts with the academic program. Our kids loved it there:)

    I think you will be hard-pressed to find a public elementary school anywhere in Berkeley/Oakland that is completely tech-free. State standardized testing, which begins in grade 3, is now administered on computers, so the kids have to be prepared for that. And there's also an awareness that some kids will not receive any kind of digital education at home, so they need to be introduced to computers at school in order to access all the resources their more affluent peers can. With all that said... my kids are at Chabot Elementary in Oakland, and a year(ish) ago, we surveyed classroom teachers in grades 2-5 on how many hours per week computers were in use in their classrooms. (We have zero computer use in kindergarten and very limited use in some grade 1 classrooms.) The very highest users averaged around 5-7 hours per week, and the lowest were down around 2 hours per week. The average was in the 3-5 hours per week range. In almost all cases, the teachers did not have access to a full set of computers (i.e., one computer per child), and classroom practices at our school often involve dividing the class into small groups. So one group is working on chromebooks while another group is working directly with the teacher while a third group is doing a paper-and-pencil activity. So... even if the classroom averaged 5 hours a week of computer use, that rarely (maybe never?) translates to an individual child staring at a screen for 5 hours a week.

    This is an area that has been subject to quite a bit of change (and quite a bit of evaluation) over the past few years at our school, and I would guess that's true at other area schools as well.

    When I was looking for a school for my son, I too had concerns about the use of technology in place of hands-on exploration and learning.
    I ultimately enrolled my son in Crestmont School, where he currently attends Kindergarten. It's a small co-op K-8 school located in the Richmond Hills community with active parent involvement. I was drawn to the school, in large part, by the school's philosophy of educating the "whole child" and the active approach to learning. Good luck!

    For a truly unique media-free school I highly recommend you take a tour of Crestmont School in the Richmond Hills. It’s a small, progressive K-8 that truly believes in project based, hands-on experiencial learning.  The teachers are engaging and supportive of all learning styles. Class sizes are small (12-15), the student body is diverse the community is welcoming and warm. The school places great emphasis on social emotional growth, creativity and inspiring children to become lifelong learners.  Students in the lower grades (K-4) do not use technology in the classroom and there is no expectation that children will use media at home. I believe 5th graders learn typing and do use some  technology for research.

     My son is in 2nd grade and has attended since kindergarten, we are extremely happy with our experience so far and he is still excited to go to school each day.  Please check it out

  • Are there any public schools or districts in the East Bay that are intentionally low/no tech for elementary school? I work in education and have seen the heavy handed push of EdTech products that have zero impact for students other than some additional mindless screen time. I'm not against all technology (my M.S.Ed is in Online Teaching and Learning) but the real benefits come from older students using technology tools to create, not from plugging young kids into screens and calling it personalized learning. WCCUSD is testing a new curriculum at the elementary level that has the very youngest students doing homework online. I am 100% not okay with this for my kids, and it may actually push us to move schools. We would prefer to avoid private schools and charter schools, are there any public schools/districts you can point us to? Thank you.

    Because California state tests are given online now, I don't think you will find any districts that do not use technology at all in elementary. Particularly in districts grappling with digital divide issues, the push is generally in the other direction. Most use Chromebooks or other similar devices starting by second grade at the latest (and many start as early as TK/K, as you've found). In my experience, there are individual teachers who use less tech, but you can't be assured of getting that particular teacher. Maybe someone will weigh in with suggestions of schools where there are concentrations of teachers who are opting out of the technology, though.

    Agreed that because testing is now online, there will be almost zero public schools that use no technology in elementary schools. However, I think Berkeley schools (at least the school our kids go to -- Sylvia Mendez) has struck a nice balance. Kinders and 1st graders do not use computers unless they are accessing reading resources such as RAZ kids from home. In second grade, my son uses the computer during class time once a week to learn coding or typing and that's pretty much it. In third grade, kids get access to Google docs to start writing papers, but do not use email. They don't get district email access until middle school. My daughter is in fourth grade and they continue to use Google docs and the Chromebooks, and definitely on a more regular basis. I assume 5th grade is the same. However, as you say, it is for creating, not "curriculum" delivered via devices. I also have an M.A in Instruction Technology and am comfortable with the technology use in this school. Good luck on this decision!

    I don't have any advice for you but am in the same boat as you. I understand that we need to allow all our kids computer literacy but I don't believe elementary schoolers need to be on computers. In fact there's a growing body of research that shows it can be harmful. I know you said no private but check out Waldorf or at least a Waldorf charter school (there's one in Oakland). True Waldorf would not introduce tech until middle at the earliest. We're looking at these or homeschool for this reason (ideally Waldorf charter). 

    You mention you didn't want to go the private route but I wanted to second the message below about looking at a Waldorf school.  They make you sign a no-screen policy for you and your child.  

  • Use of technology and screentime at EBI

    (4 replies)

    I participated in a tour of EBI in Oakland and was mostly impressed with what I saw, but I'm wondering about their technology use policies. It was briefly covered during the tour, but I felt like the topic was glossed over. My partner and I believe very strongly that screen time is harmful, and at a young age they don't need to stare, swipe, and tap at screens. Our child has never seen us watch TV, and believes the iphone and ipad are how we chat with grandma and grandpa who live far away, that's it. 

    Can any current parent explain to me how it really is in the classrooms when it comes to ipads and screens? Is it used everyday for 30 minutes, every week for an hour, for special events only... ???  Our child would be heading into one of the pre-kinder classes (yellow or blue/green, I think). 

    Thank you.

    My child is in pre-k at EBI. He has zero screen time. He has been there for two years. He also does not know what the television (which resides in the basement) does. 

    My daughter is in second grade. In kindergarten she used an iPad for a math or reading center- that means she had about 5 minutes of screen time a few days a week.  The screen time is used with a purpose. In first grade she used an iPad for a special project and reseched weather patterns in a city of her choice. 

    I encourage you to send a quick email to the admissions director and she can give you detailed answers. The director of pk-1st can also explain to you and and why screens are used for kinder and first grade. 

    Happy parent 

    Our son is in kindergarten at EBI and it sounds like (from his reports) they use iPads about once a week (probably for about 1/2 hour). He was in preschool there for one year and they didn’t use iPads at all in preschool. We are very happy with school, BTW. Great teachers, curriculum and community! 

    Hola! We have been at EBI for a few years and been happy with their technology policy for my two kids. In Pre-K iPad use was extremely limited with teachers using them to share videos to closely support something in the lesson. In Kindergarten, I recall that the kids using technology (again, limited) to help with reading and writing. We have been really happy with EBI and my heart sings when I can hear my kids speaking Spanish. Hope this helps your decision …  Signed…. Conservative Mom

    My son started EBI in Verde, 1 year before kindergarten.  He is now in 2nd grade.  Like your family, he grew up with no TV at home to this day and has never complained about the lack of one.  We are also wary about the harms of excess screen time, especially at a young age.

    EBI partners with the organization, Common Sense Media, who have periodically given workshops to parents at the school on this topic.

    The use of computers/tablets/screens varies throughout the school years and I am happy so far with its use.  Screen time is used for its advantages and not as a replacement for live, interactive teaching.  For example, because EBI is an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, they automatically have connections to other IB world schools around the world.  I recall my son's class having Skype group conversations with same age classrooms in Spanish-speaking countries having an opportunity to ask questions about how life in their country is different from the US

  • Technology in BUSD Kindergarten classrooms?

    (3 replies)

    Hi bpn! Can anyone tell me about technology use in Berkeley Public elementary schools? (Specifically, Kindergartens in the Central zone.) 

    i.e., Do teachers use screens in the classrooms? For what? Do kids take tests on computers? (My niece in another state does, and I've realized I don't have any idea what happens here.) Anything else noteworthy?


    This is going to vary greatly by teacher and you have no control over which teacher you get or the ability to switch teachers (at least in my experience). Our daughter's teacher starts the day with 10-20 minutes of YouTube videos for various songs (e.g. welcome song, ABCs, counting, days of the week etc). Many teachers also use Go Noodle at some point in the day. I know another K teacher at the school uses iPads in the classroom for some Math work. This teacher also has shown movies for special occasions (e.g. Frosty the Snowman before winter break). As far as I can tell, they aren't using computers for testing.  

    Our son is at Washington kinder and quite happy there. No screen time as far as I know. I think that might start in small doses by 3rd grade.  There are some folks in the PTA there who are trying to stave off technology in general that you can hook up with.


    It's worth noting that all students in California take state SBAC tests on computers beginning in third grade, so most schools do introduce technology well before then, and often as early as kindergarten. I can't speak to the specific Berkeley schools in the Central zone, but would be surprised not to see fairly regular technology use (iPads or Chromebooks) by second grade, if not before then.